Boy, what a crappy couple of match today in Toronto. No real surprises with the results, per se, but there really wasn’t much drama or intrigue at all, when there should have been.
First, it was Stan Wawrinka against Kei Nishikori in what seemed like an even matchup. But at the start it wasn’t. Stan bullied his way out to a big lead of the weary looking Nishikori. And the Swiss served for the match at 5-3 but couldn’t get the job done.
Nishikori capitalized on some errors (some rather bizarre) from Stan to force a tiebreak. Then Stan again got up and held 2 more set points at 6-4 but Nishikori fought back to win the last four points and take the set.
In the second, Stan just went away and Nishikori cruised to a 7-6(6), 6-1 win to register his first Top 5 win since the 2014 US Open (16 straight losses to Top 5 players since!).
“I think he started much better in the first couple games, especially,” said Nishikori. “He was hitting very good serves and was very aggressive until the 5-3 game. I started returning better and he was missing a little bit. I think he had more chances to get the first set.
“After that, he started playing a little slower. I knew I had to step it up, otherwise he’s going to come back. I’m just happy to win today.”
In the late semifinals, I thought Gael Monfils would really test Novak Djokovic and maybe even finally beat him. Djokovic still doesn’t look right – be it physcial or more likely a personal issue – whatever plagued him at Wimbledon simply hasn’t gone away. And early on he was in trouble meekly dropping serve to go down 2-1 in the first.
The Frenchman, who is finally coming into his own as he approaches 30, I guess was just too gassed from winning Washington and his current 9-match win streak to take advantage. He subsequently lost five of the next six to give the set to Djokovic. And it was all Novak in the second as Monfils just had no answer.
Djokovic played much better after getting broken, it’s too bad Monfils had no dog to put in this fight and the Serb cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 win and up his perfect mark against Monfils to 12-0.
“You do have a certain mental comfort knowing that you have had plenty of success against your opponent. Nevertheless, that is not a certainty. That’s not a guarantee that you can win the match. Actually, it actually makes him more eager to come out and play his best tennis,” Djokovic said.
The serve remains a serious issue for Djokovic.
“I’ve been working on my serve a lot the last couple of years, and I think especially on the second serve it has gave me an advantage, more depth on the second serve and so forth. In this tournament it is not working very well but in general in past couple of years it has served me very well.”
For Monfils, who knows, can he finally win a Slam?
“I guess he missed a few shots at the beginning. I got some opportunities and I took them,” said Monfils. “And then suddenly he was not missing anymore. He was going for his shots and being much better in the rallies. He became super solid. When Novak is playing like that, it’s very tough to beat him.”
So the summer North American swing begins the same way the spring U.S. ended in Miami, with Djokovic and Nishikori battling for a Masters title.
Djokovic leads 9-2 beating Nishikori eight straight times, including in the last three Masters events. Miami was a mismatch. In Madrid, Kei played better and then in the Rome semifinals he really had a shot when he lost to Novak in a final set breaker from 3-1 up.
Plus, I don’t think all is right for Novak and for whatever reason he hasn’t won in Canada since 2012. So he’s there for the beating. Tomas Berdych did what he does – choke – Friday night blowing a 6-3 first set tiebreak lead. And today, a tired Monfils simply couldn’t take advantage of an early break. Tomorrow, Novak won’t be so fortunate if he gets down.
Nishikori should have some belief. He’s also rested and he’s motivated – he’s lost his previous three Masters finals – and he’s in form.
That said, if Novak has his mind right he’ll win. Will that be the case, who knows? But he’s better in just about every department other than overhead against the Japenese.
The key for Kei will be that serve, especially the second. And the same goes for Novak. Both do well of the groundstrokes – two of the best two-handers in the sport – but the player who wins more off their serves will win the match.
And I think on a quick court like Toronto that edge goes to Novak who also has the better return game. I think it will be close, it will be tight and I think we go three sets with Novak getting his 4th Canadian Open and 30th Masters Series crown.
The pick: Djokovic in three
Again, we’ve waited for Novak to show some form of his pre-Querrey self, so far in Toronto he hasn’t really done that. Maybe tomorrow is the day.
ESPN2 will have live coverage of the men’s final starting at 4pm.
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